Monday, August 23, 2010

You Musk(melon) Make This Jam

muskmelon-nectarine jam

Just made a little batch of this jam from odds and ends I had on hand that just happened to be called for in this recipe from Ontario blogger and locavore Sarah Hood, who adapted it from a Foodland Ontario recipe. It was my good luck to have stumbled across Sarah's blog when I had these ingredients all ready to roll. I'd bought a bunch of nectarines the weekend before at the farmer's market, and the grower had tossed in this adorable little muskmelon (I'm thinking a variety of honeydew) for free. This jam is so good that I literally caught myself eating it with a spoon.

I took Sarah's tip about the lemon zest and ran with it, and lazied things up a bit further than that, even, because I have no patience for pushing things through sieves or getting out a food mill. I used a whole lemon and reduced the amount of lemon juice added later, and took my stick blender to the apples instead of straining them. I also left out that second half-cup of water the recipe calls for, and that maybe cut down on the time it took, because I got a very firm set fairly quickly. As nearly always, I peeled nothing.

This recipe yielded me more than four but not quite five half-pint jars of jam.

Honeydew-Nectarine Jam

1.5 cups tart apple, chopped (Granny Smith and Mitsy apples are out in Arkansas now)
One whole lemon, unpeeled, halved then sectioned, seeds removed
3/4 cups water
2 cups finely chopped muskmelon (canteloupe, honeydew, casaba, etc.)
2 cups finely chopped nectarines
1Tbsp lemon juice
3 cups sugar (raw, rapadura, whatevs)

Combine chopped apples, lemon pieces, and water in a large, non-reactive heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until apple is soft, about 10 minutes. The lemon will have cooked down to the peel--remove the pieces of peel. Original recipe has you push the mixture through a strainer at this point. You could do that, sure...or you could do what I did, and take your immersion (stick) blender to it right in the pan, and puree the apple pieces. Worked a treat.

Add melon, nectarines, and lemon juice, and bring to a full rolling boil. (This is where I used to mess up a lot of jams, and I never could understand why my jams didn't want to set. I was too timid in cooking them. You want the stuff to BOIL. Hard. I realize now that this is why jam recipes always call for a "large" saucepan or pot--you have to allow enough room in the pot for the jam to really rock and roll and pop and splatter...in other words, boil.) Gradually stir in sugar until completely dissolved. Boil rapidly, stirring frequently, until jam stage is reached, about 20 minutes. You could speed things along here by adding pectin, but it's not needed.

To check for "jam stage," put a clean spoon into the mixture and lift it out, looking at the back of the spoon. You want to see the jam coming off the spoon in a solid sheeting action. Additionally, if you put a little plate or two in the freezer before you start, you can drop a blob of the jam mixture onto a frozen plate, let it cool, then run your finger through it. If a gap remains where you dragged your digit, it's jam. If the "trench" fills in, keep cooking. Or, you could be sensible and just use a candy thermometer and watch for the magic 220F. I haven't gotten sensible yet.

Once jam stage is achieved, remove from heat and stir jam for 5 minutes. I don't know why, but I did it, and it turned out perfect, so you just hush and do it, too. Skim foam if necessary (I didn't have to). Pour jam into hot, sterilized jars, adjust lids, and process in a boiling water bath for however long you usually do with jams...I did mine for 10 minutes before I noticed that this recipe calls for 5 minutes. *shrug*

This was my first time using these crazy little Italian jars, and I had to go to Facebook for help with the oddly translated instructions for getting the one-piece lids to seal. You have to put them in the water bath when the water is close to the same temperature as the filled jars, then bring it up to the boil, process, and then just take the canning pot off the heat and leave the jars in the water until it's all cooled. Kinda weird, but totally worth it for the cute factor of the finished product, I think.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You Should Totally Drink This

strawberry basil balsamic soda

This is another recipe that I first made back when it was strawberry season in Arkansas (which is to say, late May), but I know from The Twitter and The Facebook that lots of you people are having strawberries right now, which is grossly unfair. Our season was shorter than ever this year, but I did manage to get several quarts into the freezer. Not as many as I'd like, but at least some. I served this drink to my family at the lake on a holiday weekend, along with some Mozzarella Caprese featuring fresh homemade mozzarella. It was a big day for balsamic vinegar.

Yes, balsamic vinegar is in that drink. As is basil. You're gonna have to trust me here, because this is super refreshing. I stumbled across this recipe a couple of places, and it just looked so good I had to try it...and I kept making it, because YUM. I did a few things differently, because...well, because I just did. And I've done it a couple different way since, so I'll just mention those as we go.

NOTE: You'll need to make the syrup at least one day before you plan to serve this drink.

Strawberry Balsamic Basil Soda

Basil Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup minced fresh basil leaves
8-10 bruised basil stems
1 cup sweetener of choice (sugar, Splenda, agave syrup, even honey...I've also experimented with stevia extract, though that requires that you use more water and monkey with it a bit)

Strawberry Balsamic Puree:
2 cups chopped strawberries
2 Tablespoons GOOD balsamic vinegar (Modena--don't skimp)

Carrier:
Sparkling water, sparkling wine, tonic, seltzer, club soda...anything bubbly and neutral-ish

Syrup: In a saucepan, combine water, sweetener of choice, and basil stems. Stir to dissolve sweetener, and bring to a light boil for a minute or so. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the minced basil leaves to the pan, cover, and let stand a half hour or so (until it's cool). Remove basil stems, and transfer the rest to a Mason jar with a lid, and let it steep in the refrigerator overnight. Strain out the minced basil just prior to serving.

Puree: Use a blender, food processor, or stick (immersion) blender to puree the chopped strawberries with the balsamic vinegar. You want it as smooth as possible.

Prepare four tall glasses and have whole basil leaves ready for garnish. Pour 1/2 cup strawberry balsamic puree into each glass, and add one cup of seltzer (or whatever carrier you've chosen) and 1-4 Tablespoons of the basil syrup, depending on your taste for sweetness (In my opinion, each glass needs about 3Tbsp of the syrup, which is why I doubled the original recipe), to each glass. Finish with ice to fill glasses, stir gently to combine, and add basil leaves to garnish.

Cheers!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Plumb Luscious Plum Sauce

plum sauce

Plum season has come and gone here, and I didn't get a chance to write this up in time, but hopefully some of you in more northern climes are still getting some plums, or maybe you froze some until you figured out what to do with them...let me tell you, this is what to do with them.

I froze a good number of plums for smoothies, and made plum jam, and the darn things were so delicious that I went back to the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market the next week and bought another box of plums from The Russian Farmer. Froze some more, and decided that I wanted to do something really special with the last of them, since there wouldn't be any more fresh local plums this year. So I did what I always do when faced with such a quandary: I took it to Twitter (and by extension, Facebook, since my Twitter updates post there as well). I was rewarded with the most amazing plum sauce recipe EVER, from the lovely Joie of Canned Laughter. I only made a couple of tiny, inconsequential changes to Joie's original recipe, and I'll note those for you as we come to them.

JOIE'S PLUM SAUCE:

* 4 lbs. Dark Plums
* 8 oz. Onions
* 1 scant cup Golden Raisins
* 2 tsp. each: Whole Allspice, Peppercorns, Mustard Seeds
* 1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
* 1 inch piece of bruised Ginger Root (~1/4 oz.)***I at least tripled this amount, and chopped it up--we love ginger!
* 2-1/2 cups Brown Malt Vinegar (or substitute Apple Cider Vinegar)***I used both
* 2-1/2 Tbs. pickling salt
* 1-1/3 cups soft Brown Sugar, light

yum plums!

Start with four pounds of beautiful, ripe (but not overripe) plums. Joie's recipe called for "dark plums," which is good, because that's what I had. Wash, chop, and pit them--no need to peel them at this time (or ever, if you do it the way I did).

Find a kid to peel the ginger for you, because peeling ginger root is a pain in the nether regions. Use a whole one-inch chunk to follow Joie's recipe, or three times that much, chopped, if you're doing it my way.

get a kid with plums under her fingernails to peel the ginger

Bundle the whole spices (allspice, peppercorns, and mustard seed) in a bit of cheesecloth, tied up and secured in a nice little bindle. I fasten mine with a zip-tie, and cut off the excess cloth.

In a heavy, non-reactive (no aluminum, no non-coated iron, no copper) pot, combine chopped plums, chopped onions, raisins, ginger, half the vinegar (My bottle of malt vinegar wasn't quite enough for this recipe, so I made up the rest with organic ACV),cayenne pepper, and the sachet of whole spices.

plum sauce makin's

Bring this mixture to the boil, then reduce temperature and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, or until plums are soft and pulpy. It just gets more and more beautiful as it simmers.

that right there will make your house smell good

first simmer

This next part is where I disobeyed Joie's instructions. My sauce turned out amazing, and I'm sure it does when done her way, too--heck, her way might be better. But I am lazy, and I also hate to waste anything, plus I like a strong ginger "bite" to sauces like this. So, to follow Joie's instructions, at this point you'll want to remove the spice bag, and strain the cooked sauce into another container, rubbing the contents through a fine sieve before returning the strained mixture to the original, rinsed pot.

What I did was simply to remove the spice bag, and puree everything until it was perfectly smooth. Use a blender, a food processor, or the easiest option, an immersion (stick) blender, right in the cooking pot.

Whichever route you choose, at this point you'll add in the salt, sugar, and the remaining vinegar. Bring the mixture back up to the boil, and keep it at a good bubbling simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. It should reduce down a good bit, and thicken up some.

second simmer, after puree

Ladle hot sauce carefully into hot, sterilized jars, adjust lids and rims, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes (more if at higher altitudes--check your local extension office guidelines). Rest for 24 hours before storing in a cool, dark place (mine just live in a kitchen cabinet). Joie says that her recipe yields 2 pints, or 4 half-pint jelly jars. My batch, as you can tell from the picture at the top of this post, yielded 7 half-pint jars...probably because I pureed everything instead of straining anything out.

I really appreciate Joie sharing her recipe with me, because this plum sauce is simply divine! And look how pretty it is! This would make an amazing gift, if you are a better person than me and can resist the urge to hoard it all for yourself. I'm imagining many wonderful uses for this delicious sauce...on lamb, on chicken, or to elevate pork roast to another level altogether. And desserts? Oh, the options are endless.

so pretty